At the bottom of my street and less than five minutes walk from my house is Ilkley's swimming pool. It's a small, rather grubby affair. The changing rooms are tired, the water is generally freezing and there are no catering facilities to speak of bar a couple of vending machines. But despite its shortcomings, Ilkley pool has something to set it apart from other pools. It has a Lido.
The Lido was opened in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and entertains up to 150,000 visitors in the season and up to 4,000 a day when the weather is good. You can see that I have referred to the Friends of Ilkley Lido website for my useful and informative facts and figures. Really all you need to know is that it is a beautiful outdoor pool with a big fountain and spectacular views over the Moor to the Cow and Calf rocks beyond.
I haven't been for the last two years when the only decent weather came before the Lido opened in May or after it had closed in September. It was also quite hard work with two pre-schoolers because if they went in the water then I had to go in too. However, our family has been well represented in my absence. Each year as soon as the pool opens at Whitsun we buy season tickets for the two big girls and then that is the last we see of them. Every spare minute is spent at the Lido with gangs of mates no matter what the conditions that the great British summer throws at us.
So, last weekend the doors of the Lido were thrown open and their mobiles began to ring with other children making unnecessarily complicated arrangements to meet up. Because the girls are only 11 and 12, the levels of freedom that their friends have is many and varied. Some, like ours, have season tickets and can get themselves there and back without any parental involvement at all. Others live further away and so are given lifts backwards and forwards. Some poor unfortunates can only go if a parent accompanies them which severely curtails their enjoyment of the place. Our two wander down most days and then bring hordes of friends back with them as we seem to be a convenient place for people to collect from. All summer my hallway is clogged up with wet towels and rucksacks. This year has been slightly different as my eldest is still waiting for the all clear to swim following her operation in March. Still, that doesn't seem to stop her joining everyone else. Half the time it's way too cold to go in the water anyway.
But I have four children and the other two have been desperate to join in the fun. So, with one eye on the weather forecast, I promised that we would go for a picnic today knowing that warm sunshine had been predicted. We packed food and drink and costumes and towels and goggles and a book ( for me - I had no intention of getting wet) and off we strolled raggle taggle down the road. It was busy when we got there but I found a space away from the pool and any splashes and set ourselves up for the day.
First things first. The little ones wanted to go in the water. There are two things to bear in mind at this point. Firstly, the last time they went into water outside it was the Caribbean. Secondly, the pool has only been full for a week. The temperature of the water came as something of a shock to them. It is, of course, freezing and only warms to something approximating a bearable temperature after at least a fortnight of temperatures in the 80s. So the going in the water bit didn't last long and pretty soon we were on to the picnic which didn't last long either. Then the big ones went off with their mates and my husband took the little two to the indoors pool for a bit of a swim.
This gave me the chance for a spot of people watching. There is an interesting cross section of society there. By far the largest group is made up of teenagers - gangs of girls in bikinis giggling and flicking their hair and lads all flexing their muscles and flicking their towels. Then there are the mothers with smaller children. They fall into two camps depending on the age of their off spring. If they can swim but aren't old enough to be there unaccompanied then the mothers sit on benches or towels fully clothed reading a book or chatting. Those poor unfortunates ( and I have been there) with children who can't swim have to get changed and follow their charges around to avoid accidental drowning. There are little ones in huge waterlogged nappies or those ridiculous costumes with buoyancy aids sewn in and lots in those all in one sun protection suits that are terribly sensible but look so uncomfortable. There are lots of dads on duty because it's too cold for the mums and then there is the hardy group who go down to the Lido each day to swim their 50 lengths because it's good for the circulation or the digestion or their soul.
Of course at the weekend it is full of out of towners. The best time to go is on a warm weekday evening after school when the sun has spent all day heating the water but has dropped in the sky and is giving off that beautiful, golden, end of the day light. On evenings like that you couldn't wish to be anywhere else. As always I am hopeful for a good summer with plenty of evenings just like that. And who knows, I might even have a swim!